The Rise in Importance of Megasites in the South

The recent purchase of a plethora of massive megasites in a race to electrify the auto industry restructures the entire region’s economic development landscape.

By Michael Randle

In 2020, 2021 and so far in 2022, the South has captured more large projects than at any time in more than 30 years. Developing large sites for massive projects has reestablished many smaller counties and boosted their ability to compete.

As a result of this extremely active swarm of large projects in the South over the course of three consecutive years, a new accounting of the locations of these sites and how and why they have grown in importance is imperative because there is one constant in economic development — change.

The changes these major projects have potentially made to the South’s economic development landscape and the results (in many cases) are remarkable. Prior to 2020, some locations, especially rural ones, discovered a new lease on life as they became the location of a major investment or job-generating deal. In many cases, project activity had essentially been non-existent in some counties. Now, with massive new projects, a lot has changed. The following is a comprehensive assessment of many of these.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Alabama, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Hyundai recently announced it will invest $7.4 billion in the U.S., and build electric cars in Montgomery.Montgomery, Ala.
In just a short time, the Hyundai plant in Montgomery has announced the addition of an EV line along with its supporting cast. In May, two Korean automakers operating in the U.S. — Hyundai and Kia — announced a joint venture to build a massive, multi-billion battery and EV plant near Savannah, Ga. This will open up all kinds of opportunities. When Kia and Hyundai work together — recruiting suppliers to both plants in Georgia and Alabama — magic happens. The Korean working model in Montgomery and Georgia is the most efficient of any automotive cluster in the Southern Auto Corridor.

Auburn-Opelika, Ala.
An important Hyundai and Kia support member, Auburn-Opelika is located between the Hyundai plant in Montgomery and the Kia plant 80 miles away in West Point, Ga. This market in far-east Alabama is a haven for automotive suppliers, especially Korean ones.

Cullman, Ala.
With a great location and Rock Star staff, Cullman is in the middle of everything new and big in Alabama.

Birmingham-Jefferson County, Ala.
The largest market in the state now finds itself just south of the new Mazda Toyota plant in Huntsville, and close to the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa that is already assembling EVs. In addition, Alabama got great news in 2021 when the Blue Oval City EV and battery campus that Ford is building in West Tennessee (a $5.6 billion, 6,000-job EV battery and assembly plant) located nearby. Mazda Toyota, Ford’s Blue Oval City and Mercedes’ EV assembly didn’t exist less than four years ago, transforming Birmingham’s role as a place with new-found importance in site selection.

Baldwin County, Ala.
Baldwin County, in extreme South Alabama, landed its first tenant at the 3,000-acre South Alabama Megasite in May. They captured Atlanta-based Novelis, an aluminum maker that will locate the first fully integrated aluminum mill in the U.S. in the past 40 years. Novelis, a leading sustainable aluminum solutions provider, will invest $2.5 billion into the new low-carbon recycling and rolling plant, and is expected to create approximately 1,000 jobs.

Marion County, Lamar County and Fayette County, Ala.
These three very rural counties were sort of hidden in Northwest Alabama for decades. But the Northwest Alabama EDA hung in there until luck landed in their laps. Ford’s Blue Oval City project is just north of the three counties. . .the Mazda Toyota plant just to the northeast and Hyundai to the southeast.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Since 1993, Mercedes has been the mothership of automotive in Alabama with its huge assembly and EV plant in Tuscaloosa and the giant electric battery facility nextdoor in Bibb County. The Germans know how to do it right. From its large supplier base in and around Tuscaloosa, the Mercedes model in Alabama is one of the most successful we have ever seen.

In 2016, the Huntsville Mega Site became the first in Alabama to secure TVA certification. For a site to receive TVA certification, it must be at least 1,000 acres, with interstate access, the potential for rail service, and utility service capable of serving a major manufacturing facility.Huntsville, Ala.
Building off one of TVA’s most impressive megasites on Interstate 65, Mazda Toyota has turned Huntsville into an automotive cluster that is destined to thrive along with the area’s flourishing aerospace, engineering, defense, information technology and bioscience sectors.

Other Alabama sites that should be recognized: Walker County, Ala.; Chambers County, Ala.; Escambia County, Ala.; Morgan County, Ala.; The Shoals, Ala.; Bibb County, Ala.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Arkansas, sites in the following places have grown in importance.

Once known only for its cotton, Mississippi County, Ark., is the second largest steel producing county in the U.S, and will soon be No. 1 when U.S. Steel — which announced its $3 billion deal in spring 2022 — opens two electric arc furnaces and steel plant in 2024. Mississippi County, Ark.
This overly rural county (population around 40,000) in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas has hit it big in the last year or two. More often than not, Mississippi County and its two county seats of Blytheville and Osceola have experienced more economic heartache than success for years.

But transforming from a cotton-based economy to steel has had profound effects. Mississippi County is the second largest steel producing county in the U.S, and will soon be No. 1 when U.S. Steel — which announced its $3 billion deal in spring 2022 — opens two electric arc furnaces and steel plant in 2024. The plant will hire 900. “This is the big one,” said Clif Chitwood, director of the Great River Economic Development Foundation. “This will be Mississippi County’s best shot to rebuild our demographic infrastructure.”

Crittenden County, Ark.
Crittenden County is located adjacent to Mississippi County and is expected to land several suppliers to the numerous nearby steel plants.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Georgia, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Bryan County, Ga.
In May 2022, Hyundai laid down another big Kahuna deal in Georgia, one that may prove much larger than any EV deal announced in the last three years. Hyundai operates its only U.S. plants in Montgomery, Ala., and sister company Kia in West Point, Ga. They have a history of working together in the two states, sharing suppliers and business philosophies. Since they both are South Korean automakers, this makes them incredibly efficient.

Hyundai announced in late May it will open an auto plant and EV battery factory in Bryan County, Ga., in 2025. The company will invest a boatload in facilities that will house 8,100 workers at the megasite, which is located adjacent to Interstate 16 near Ellabell.

Hyundai and Kia will have to continue to work together to build the largest electric vehicle and battery plant in the Southern Auto Corridor because Bryan County is located in far-east Southeast Georgia. As a result, counties in that part of the state will now see opportunities they have never before seen.

Liberty County, Ga.
Located next to Bryan County, the new Korean development will completely transform Liberty and all counties in this part of the state.

Statesboro-Bulloch County, Ga.
Located north of Bryan County on the Interstate 16 corridor, Bulloch County has always had a talented recruiting staff, but this is a whole ’nother deal altogether.

Newton County, Ga.; Jasper County, Ga.; Walton County, Ga.; Morgan County, Ga.
These four counties banded together as a Joint Development Authority to assist Amazon and Ford Motor Company in the startup and development of Rivian, a new electric vehicle manufacturer that is making a $5 billion, 7,500-job commitment at the former East Atlanta Megasite near Social Circle, Ga. The two plants will be built on nearly 2,000 acres. Plans are to begin production in 2024. Rivian has three models set up, an electric pickup, an SUV and an electric delivery truck designed and built for Amazon, its first commercial customer.

Jackson County, Ga.
A few years ago, Jackson County landed one of the first full-scale, EV battery facilities in the United States with SK Innovation. The Korean company was on to something as it now seems to be involved in every large EV battery project that has been announced in this incredible run of billions being spent on electric vehicles in the Southern Auto Corridor.

Henry County, Ga.
What an outstanding location in Georgia as the deals fly. If there is a significant supply chain to Rivian’s plant, Henry County, Ga., situated on Interstate 75 south of Atlanta, will be a hard-to-beat location, since it is situated adjacent to the Joint Development Authority counties. Over the years, Henry County became the most active distribution center location in the state.

Other Georgia sites that should be recognized: Dublin-Laurens County, Ga.; Cherokee County, Ga.; Putnam County, Ga.; Oconee County, Ga.; Athens-Clark County, Ga.; Gwinnett County, Ga.; Chatham County, Ga.; Effingham County, Ga.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Kentucky, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Elizabethtown-Hardin County, Ky.
After decades of trying to land a big Kahuna for Hardin County’s Glendale Megasite, in 2021, the ship finally anchored at this Central Kentucky market that includes Elizabethtown. And the two massive Ford battery projects have already begun to re-blend and weave sites all around Hardin County, many of which haven’t seen a significant project in years.

The Blue Oval SK Battery Park will be built on Hardin County’s Glendale Megasite. Hardin County, Ky., which also includes Elizabethtown, is already feeling the impact of the monster deal.This Ford deal in Hardin County, Ky., called the Blue Oval SK Battery Park, is a biggie for the Commonwealth of Kentucky as well as Interim and former long-time Secretary of Kentucky Economic Development Larry Hayes. Larry has spent a good portion of his career trying to find a large user for the megasite. That has now been achieved, along with several other EV-based deals in Kentucky.

Bullitt County, Ky.
A county located between Hardin County and Ford’s massive new development is Bullitt County, Ky. Bullitt is a distribution location as a result of the UPS World Hub and other air freight hubs like Amazon and DHL located in Louisville and Northern Kentucky. Because of Ford’s new $5.8 billion, 5,600-employee EV battery campus, Bullitt County’s economic fortunes have never been better.

Breckinridge County, Ky.
Fortuitous. Breckenridge is now a hot commodity sitting right next to Ford and Hardin County.

Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky.
Kentucky’s largest market has a strong manufacturing base, one of the strongest per capita in the U.S. It will absorb not only many of Ford’s suppliers, but everything in its path.

Bardstown-Nelson County, Ky.
Bourbon, bourbon, bourbon now diversifies into automotive, automotive, automotive as a result of Ford’s massive investment in next-door Hardin County.

Lexington-Fayette County, Ky.
Home of the city of Lexington, Fayette County is not too far from the Kentucky Blue Oval version of Ford’s EV campus in Elizabethtown.

Bowling Green-Warren County, Ky.
Bowling Green is home to a GM plant, and a battery maker is building a $2 billion facility there. Bowling Green is also close to Ford’s Blue Oval development in Hardin County, Ky., and Mazda Toyota in Huntsville.

Other Kentucky sites that should be recognized: Leitchfield-Grayson County, Ky.; Warren County, Ky.; Ohio County, Ky.; Larue County, Ky.; Shelby County, Ky.; Boyle County., Ky.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in the state of Louisiana, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Port of South Louisiana, La.
As always, there is a steady diet of oil, gas, LNG and petrochemical projects announced in Louisiana every month. Many of them find the numerous waterfront sites in the Port of South Louisiana, La., irresistible.

Calcasieu Parish, La.
Lake Charles Parish has seen tens of billions spent on LNG projects over the last 10 years or so.

Cameron Parish, La.
A part of the Lake Charles MSA and home to LNG projects that exceed $20 billion in investment.

Ascension Parish, La.
A consistently strong parish in economic development located near Baton Rouge.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Mississippi, sites in these places of the state have grown in importance.

Madison County, Miss.
Few if any states in the South have seen the development of sites for EV projects — in their state or nearby — in the last two years like Mississippi. The state is now surrounded by the EV industry. First, there is Mazda Toyota in North Alabama that has restocked locations in Northern and Northeast Mississippi that just weren’t cutting it a few years back. With Mazda Toyota, come new opportunities for them.

Also supporting the newfound popularity of sites in Northern Mississippi is Ford’s Blue Oval City located east of Memphis, and its partner SK Innovation. Now you have Mercedes Benz producing EVs in Tuscaloosa, the new announcement that Nissan in Madison County, Miss., is building two EVs, and Hyundai in Montgomery is also preparing EV lines. Lots of new opportunity for sleepy sites in Mississippi as a result of so much action in the last three years.

De Soto County, Miss.
De Soto County is located south of Memphis, the primary world air freight hub that FedEx operates there. De Soto County is also smack dab in the middle of the action at Ford’s new Blue Oval City, where the Michigan automaker is making EVs at a site just east of Memphis, making batteries and assembling the electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

The Memphis International Airport is the busiest and largest cargo airport in the world. The transportation, distribution and logistics industries choose Memphis again and again for projects that move air freight from Japan to Europe to Africa. Memphis offers a deep bench of qualified talent, with over 100,000 people employed in transportation-related occupations in Tennessee and Northern Mississippi. The average pay in that sector is about $19 an hour, a far cry from what Ford will pay at Blue Oval City in Western Tennessee.

Alcorn County, Miss.
This county is unique in that its location is very close to Mazda Toyota in Huntsville and Blue Oval City in Tennessee.

Tishomingo County, Miss.
Tishomingo has been provided the same opportunities as Alcorn County, with both locations in extreme Northeast Mississippi.

Columbus-Lowndes County, Starkville-Oktibbeha County and West Point-Clay County, Miss.
After capturing many of the South’s most prestigious manufacturing projects over the years, the new wave of EV deals has put the Columbus, Miss., area back in the spotlight. Ford, Mazda Toyota, Mercedes Benz and Nissan now envelope the Golden Triangle region. Not only that, there are new industrial parks in the Columbus region and the Infinity Megasite in Lowndes County, Miss., is now the most attractive megasite left in the Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee region of megasite clusters.

Lee County, Pontotoc County and Union County, Miss.
Home to Toyota’s gas-powered Corolla plant, the Japanese automaker has not pulled the EV switch at the Northeast plant yet. But these counties anchored by Toyota are freaks of nature. They, especially Tupelo, always earn more than their fair share of great projects and have for decades.

Other sites in Mississippi that should be recognized: Marshall County, Miss.; Lafayette County, Miss.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in North Carolina, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Duke Energy
Duke is the dominant player for energy in the state. If you are working an EV-based deal in North Carolina, Duke will probably be involved.

Chatham County, N.C.
Among the massive projects that are changing the site selection game in the South, comes a project right out of the blue. VinFast, an electric vehicle company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., announced that it will establish a new facility in Chatham County at the Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure, N.C. VinFast is part of Vingroup, the largest privately held company in Vietnam.

The facility will be the first original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to locate in North Carolina. It will produce both electric vehicles and batteries. Governor Roy Cooper announced that the automotive company has purchased land at the Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure and will create 7,500 jobs at an average salary of $51,096. The company will invest $4 billion in Chatham County over the next four years. The project has already opened up new sites in Central North Carolina. VinFast, with its site in Chatham County, will draw its workforce from 22 counties that are located within an hour’s drive of the site.

Randolph County, N.C.
The Greensboro Randolph Megasite was looked at seriously by Toyota site selection pro Dennis Cuneo and North Carolina Commerce Secretary Jim Fain back in the day. (That search ended with Toyota choosing to build in San Antonio.) Now, this site will surely create new options for counties in Central North Carolina to land larger and many more projects than ever before.

Toyota USA will invest billions of dollars into the new automotive battery plant in North Carolina, a project that amounts to the largest capital investment in state history. The lithium battery manufacturing plant will be built on the 1,800-acre plot and will house 1,750 workers. It’s is a joint venture with Toyota Tsusho and the plan is to begin production in 2025.

Guilford County, N.C.
Not only is Guilford County located directly adjacent to both the Greensboro Randolph Megasite (Toyota - Electric batteries), it is also close to the Triangle Innovation Point in Moncure,, N.C. Can’t get a better location than that.

Cabarrus County, Rowan County, Johnston County and Lee County, N.C.
Several counties in and around the two major automotive projects announced in Central North Carolina are primed for new economic development adventures, including Cabarrus County, Rowan County, Johnston County and Lee County. Other North Carolina sites that should be recognized: Cumberland County, N.C.; Harnett County, N.C.; Davidson County, N.C.; Rockingham County, N.C.; Alamance County, N.C.; Forsyth County, N.C.; and Wilson County, N.C.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in Tennessee, sites in these places have grown in importance.

TVA Sites
With a surge in the use of certified megasites, there is one company that has led the pack in the South — the Tennessee Valley Authority. While many of the utilities’ megasites are long gone and in use, there still are a couple more. No megasite program in the South has ever seen more success than TVA’s these last three years and no state in the South saw more considerable EV deals in and around it during this run. TVA’s territory in several Southern states has seen numerous megasites purchased by large users.

The Ford, SK Innovation, West Memphis I-40 Megasite, Haywood County, Tenn., deal changes everything for this once nearly dormant part of West Tennessee.Haywood County, Tenn.
Ground Zero for what could be (of all these massive projects announced in the South in the last three years) the biggest Rock Star deal of them all. The Ford, SK Innovation, West Memphis I-40 Megasite, Haywood County, Tenn., deal changes everything for this once nearly dormant part of West Tennessee.

Tipton County, Tenn.; Lauderdale County, Tenn.
These are the two other counties that are adjacent to Haywood County that partnered with the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, which worked so hard to land Ford and SK Innovation and its EV pickup truck plant and massive battery campus. Suddenly, in late 2021, Blue Oval City was born.

Jackson-Madison County, Tenn.
The biggest of the big Kahuna deals lands in your backyard. What do you do? No, where do you start?

Memphis-Shelby County, Tenn.
No market in the South will benefit more from the billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs that Blue Oval City will bring to the Memphis MSA. Memphis didn’t hit a homerun, it hit 10 grand slams. Ford and SK will literally transform one of the South’s most unique and diverse major markets.

Dyer County, Tenn.
Located north of Blue Oval City, Dyersburg now finds itself in a position to exploit its new-found strategic location, which also includes being nearby the sister billion-dollar Ford facility in Central Kentucky and Mazda Toyota in Huntsville.

Clarksville-Montgomery County, Tenn.
A dynamic economic development location just northwest of Nashville, Montgomery County’s fortunes have improved even more with its close proximity to Ford in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Rutherford County, Tenn.
Home to Nissan’s new, massive EV setup at its plant in Smyrna-Rutherford County.

General Motors and its joint-venture battery partner LG Chem Ltd. announced in 2021 their plans to build a second battery cell manufacturing factory in the United States in Spring Hill, Tenn., located in Maury County. The 2.8-million-square-foot, $2.3 billion Ultium Cells facility will create 1,300 new manufacturing jobs.Maury County, Tenn.
Maury County is where GM and its long-time assembly plant are planning their own electric vehicle revolution. Maury County will also earn dividends for being so close to the Mazda Toyota plant in Huntsville.

Other Tennessee sites that should be recognized: Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn.; Lawrence County, Tenn.; Giles County, Tenn.; Fayette County, Tenn.; Carroll County, Tenn.; Wilson County, Tenn.; Gibson County, Tenn.; Henry County, Tenn.; Obion County, Tenn.; Gallatin-Sumner County, Tenn.



Because of a recent surge in manufacturing project activity in the state of Texas, sites in these places have grown in importance.

Samsung chose Taylor, Texas, in Williamson County, to build its $17 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility. The new plant was originally meant to be an expansion of one already located in Austin, but Taylor outbid it as the new home for the 5-nanometer EUV foundry. The new site will be located roughly 25 miles from Austin and occupy over 1,187 acres.Williamson County, Texas
Electric vehicles in Texas were not the target from 2020 to 2022, but shoring up and improving the capacity for advanced semiconductors is happening in Texas, and it is about time.

In an age of a severe absence of new computer chip production in the United States, Korean semiconductor manufacturer Samsung made a stand in November 2021, when it announced a new chip plant in Taylor, Texas, which borders Travis County and Austin. Samsung’s $17 billion investment in a new facility will boost production of advanced semiconductors. The deal will create 2,000 jobs. Samsung has operated a chip plant in Austin for over 20 years.

Sherman-Grayson County, Texas
Also in November 2021, Texas Instruments selected Sherman for a potential $30 billion semiconductor chip-making campus. The site has the potential to house up to four semiconductor chip-manufacturing facilities.

Dallas-based TI’s venture is betting big on American-made chips, and the $30 billion could be used to build up to four new semiconductor fabrication plants in a new campus in Sherman. TI said it will begin construction next year on the first two plants producing its 300-millimeter wafers used in everything from cars and trucks to industrial machinery. It estimates chip production will start by 2025.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Dallas County, Tarrant County, Texas
Dallas-Fort Worth is the most active economic development region in the entire South, probably the country. When it comes to attracting all kinds of industry to the South, D-FW has no peer. The semiconductor industry will bring all kinds of opportunity to this territory for years to come.

Austin-Travis County, Texas
Austin, without question, is now the center of technology, vision and innovation nationwide.

Other Texas sites that should be recognized: Hays County, Texas; Bastrop County, Texas; Denton County, Texas.



Martinsville-Henry County, Va.
One of the most challenged and remarkably successful small manufacturing markets in the entire South, the emergence of an enormous electric vehicle industry will indeed propel Martinsville-Henry County to great heights. The two new EV projects in Chatham and Randolph County, N.C., which amount to more than $11 billion in investments, are being built at the southern back door to Martinsville-Henry County, Va.

Pittsylvania County, Va.
Pittsylvania County borders Henry County in the rural Southside-Southwest Virginia region. That gives Pittsylvania County a leg-up in potential new projects because of the success of North Carolina and its two big EV deals in nearby Chatham County and Randolph County, N.C.

Mecklenburg County, Va.; Dinwiddie County, Petersburg County, Va.
Rural Mecklenburg County is the entry point into Virginia via Interstate 85 from the Central North Carolina region where VinFast, an electric vehicle company headquartered in Los Angeles, announced that it will establish a new facility in Chatham County in Moncure, N.C.

Also on the Interstate 85 corridor in North Carolina is the Greensboro Randolph Megasite-Randolph County, N.C. (Toyota=Electric batteries). I-85 continues on through Southside Virginia to the Richmond MSA, where it merges with Interstate 95.

Suffolk County, Va.; Chesapeake County, Va.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Norfolk, Va.; Newport News, Va.
All of these cities and counties that make up the Hampton Roads region have an enhanced opportunity to turn more deals in the near future because of the electrification of the automotive industry in the region.

Other Virginia sites that should be recognized: Campbell County, Va.; Montgomery County, Va.; Bedford County, Va.; Roanoke, Va.; Richmond, Va.; Chesterfield, Va.; Hanover County, Va.; Goochland County, Va.; Henrico County, Va.

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